From Farming to industrial agriculture

In the past, the agricultural sector used mainly local varieties, thereby ensuring biodiversity all over the world.  The farmers were real farmers. They knew their land and touched their soil with their hands and feet, taking care of their animals and seeds themselves. Sometimes they would exchange seeds in order to improve or compare crops, other times they held onto their seeds like treasures. The food was not transported far. Everything was grown and exchanged locally, moved from the land to the next town. Most of the farming tools were invented by farmers themselves or craftsman and made by hand close by. Food and hunger went hand in hand and the quality of the food was kept intact. The agricultural sector dominated the economy – 70% of the population worked within it and each year it was the weather which had final say on the size and quality of the harvest. Unemployment did not exist in those days.

The conventional farmer of the last 100 years is not the same farmer any more. Today’s famer receives instructions from the different industries – telling them which fertilisers, pesticides and machines they must use and when. They use GPS-controlled farming and the scientists of companies such as Bayer calculate the formula based on the type of farming and the specific country and the size and soil of each individual farm. They recommend the specific seeds including the round-up of fertilisers and pesticides and define the size and specification of the machinery determined by the manufacturer. The conventional farmer becomes a businessman and loses the skill and proficiency of the real farmer. They sit in the office calculating profit and loss, the means and the market. They lose the connection to the soil and the plants, the animals, the food and to the spiritual forces. It appears that using the machines and technology shifts the focus away from the earth and the cosmos and onto numbers, money and power. Since the prevalence of industrial farming, animal welfare has also become an issue. In the past animals were kept with care due to their value and importance. Nowadays a cow is an industrial product, only valued by its weight in meat. Their horns are sawn off to enable more cattle to be kept per square metre in the barn. They have no space even to walk – they are fed ‘food’ which they would never eat in nature (power food made from soya beans) and are pumped full of antibiotics to survive these conditions. The occurrences of illnesses, such as mad cow disease, are unsurprisingly on the rise. Chicken are now often kept in ‘concentration camps’ – in conditions without light and where feeding portions are automatically controlled. Do we want to eat that? Only if we are unaware and have not had to witness it.

When we look at the history of industrial agriculture we can see that the first big movement occurred with the industrial revolution. With the discovery of oil as an energy source, steam engines began to run on refined oil instead of coal and machines became smaller and more compact. The use of machines increased and a new business model and criteria arose: the concentration of power in order to make money faster. The money began to be generated and circulated in the cities and the conversation shifted from quality to quantity. Humans invented machines allowing production to be independent of weather and soil conditions, creating higher margins.  Now it was simply engineering, capital and workers that were needed, and the question: how to get people to work for very little? There were two factors:

  • Using machines for the agricultural sector, for farming and food processing. Machines replaced people in the fields and agriculture suddenly moved to large-scale production resulting in reduced biodiversity. Monoculture was born and machines could now be used more efficiently, enabling farmers to release their workers into the industries within the towns. Over the last two hundred years the number of people working in the agricultural sector has gone down from 70% to less than 5% in an average industrialised country. In Germany it is less than 1.5% (
  • Industries were located in towns to give easy access to the workers close by, enabling workers to be concentrated in large multitenant buildings – to keep transport and living costs cheap and to more easily maintain control with the police or army (see or Kirkpatrick Sale: “rebels against the future”). The housing and building industry and the capitalising of the soil created other important streams of income and capital generating resources for investors. He who steals the goose of the common land goes to prison; he who steals the common land of the goose becomes rich.

The second big movement of industrial agriculture came after the World Wars. During and after both World Wars the political and industrial power became concentrated in the hands of a few. The nations needed soldiers as well as people to work for the big industrial companies producing machines and weapons. These people were taken from the agricultural sector and were replaced by machines and chemicals.

Nitrogen, for instance, is an important nutrient for plants and is used artificially to increase yield and growth. It is the key chemical element used to generate TNT (highly explosive dynamite). After the First World War, the use of Nitrogen was transferred from bombs to agriculture. However, the effects of these levels of nitrogen in the soil were not measured. The consequences of this resulted in drastically reduced O2 content in the soil and water and, in coastal areas, too much nitrogen causes algae to ignite.  Instead of using external nitrogen sources from mines, nature has evolved plants that absorb nitrogen in the air. If a farmer rotates crops with legumes, beans, chickpeas or peanuts, which absorb the nitrogen in the air and channel it through the roots into the soil, external nitrogen is unnecessary. Plants never over-fertilise the soil due to the natural growth process. In 1938 A.I. Virtanen, a Finnish researcher, published a book, reporting on organic-N nutrition in plants, vitamins in foods and feeds and the nutrient cooperation of nitrogen fixing plants and non-fixers. For his work, he received the Nobel prize for Chemistry in 1945. The agrochemical industry rejects it due to the high profitability of the mined nitrogen along with other chemical businesses. Another disadvantage of using artificial nitrogen deposition is the resulting reduction in biodiversity across a country. This is due to the declining quality of the soil as chemicals are added (see Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung Natur und Wissenschaft, 28-11-2018). The use of nitrogen worldwide has increased from 17 million tons per year in 1960 to 118 million in 2010. We should not forget that areas of soil with rare nutrients have high levels of biodiversity. Therefore, we need biodiversity also in the soils.

Following World War Two, the chemical and pharmaceutical industries decided to repurpose the poisons they had developed to kill prisoners in their concentration camps and soldiers on the battlefields. It was at this time that the plan to introduce these toxins into the farming industry developed – to do away with manual weeding and instead have farmers use pesticides to eliminate weeds growing around their crops. To reinforce this plan, more chemical companies invested in seed production. They wanted to complete the circle and monopolise the industry: from seeds to chemical fertilisers and pesticides. Nearly all of the top 10 seed companies are also involved with the chemical industry (with the exception of KWS, Germany, which is a pure seed company).

The farmers no longer see the profits of their work, which instead go to the manufacturers of the machinery, chemicals and pharmaceuticals, the food transformers and distributors. The huge profits they gain are only possible due to state subsidies of food and farming itself: a weeding machine is subsidised but not manual weeding. The current habits and behaviour of the consumer from driving to the supermarket instead of going to the weekly market or independent organic shop, to the demand for imported, exotic foods all year round rather than eating locally and seasonally, directly support the retail and wholesale structures and profit. This in turn dictates costing to farmers worldwide. The entire food chain in dependent on cheap oil. If the oil price would jump up of factor 5-10 most non-oil countries will starve due to increasing food production costs.

What the industry does not declare is the pollution of the water, soil, air and food due to agrochemicals and antibiotics (see antibiotic resistance and the biology of history, by Hannah Landecker, University of California) and the cost to the tax payer to clean the water and soil again (in France it was calculated to several billion euros per year, see also

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